Nutrition in elderly: What we should be aware of?
Adopting a healthy diet until old age is a prerequisite for delaying the deterioration of the body and it leads on better management of health problems that will inevitably arise over the years.
For the elderly, a diet with high content of nutrients is extremely important, due to the huge effects it has on their physical and cognitive state, bone and eye health, vascular function and the immune system. Only this kind of diet gives them energy, helps them control their weight and protects them from diseases such as heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and even some types of cancer.
However, given that aging brings changes that differentiate their needs in order to remain healthy, it is necessary to adjust the intake of ingredients as well as calories. Developing a diet plan that takes into account any existing pathology could overcome many of the factors that hinder its proper functioning.
What changes through the years?
Seniors have different caloric needs compared to younger people because their metabolism is slower and they move less so they do not need as much energy to cope with their activities. Therefore, it is necessary to limit the amount of food they eat in order to maintain a healthy weight and avoid diseases caused by obesity.
In addition, their ability to absorb and utilize nutrients decreases as they grow older, and as a result, the demands increase. Most people also take medication for their chronic conditions which affect their nutritional requirements. For example, deficiency of B vitamins is very common, given the body’s reduced ability to store water-soluble vitamins.
Last but not least, aging often coexists with loss of appetite and changes in taste and smell, with poorer oral health and reduced ability to swallow, as well as with mobility limitations and limited income. All this can lead to reduced food intake but also to a lower quality diet.
The nutrients that are necessary in the human body include macronutrients and micronutrients in the appropriate quantities to meet its needs. These quantities are individualized. It should contain plenty of natural foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy and protein, and exclude or limit those that have a negative effect on health, such as salt, fat and processed foods. Indicative:
Protein intake by the elderly needs special attention. This is because the right amount must be taken in order to reap the maximum benefits and avoid the damage that can be caused, especially by proteins derived from animal sources, such as impaired renal function. Moderate protein intake is essential for maintaining nitrogen balance and compensating for lower age-related energy intake as well as reduced insulin activity.
Protein intake is also essential for maintaining lean muscle mass, a phenomenon common in the elderly that puts them at risk in multiple ways. On the one hand, the greater loss of lean muscle mass implies the presence of a higher percentage of fat mass, a condition that increases the risk of metabolic disorders and chronic diseases caused by them. On the other hand, losing lean muscle mass increases the chance of falls.
Protein is just as important in maintaining bone mass.
Both of these macronutrients are missing from the majority of older people.
With regard to fats, the focus is on the lack of omega-3 fatty acids that is observed in their body, rather than on the amount of fat consumed or the type of them (saturated or unsaturated), which concerns younger people.
Fiber is known to be important for maintaining gut health and protecting against heart disease and other metabolic conditions. Epidemiological studies have concluded that omega-3 fatty acids have a protective effect in older people. For example, they protect against potentially fatal cardiovascular problems, diabetes and cognitive impairment.
It has been shown by many studies that the majority of the elderly do not get the necessary amounts of certain essential micronutrients. Some people are at greater risk of losing some of them. In fact, the ages that have lower levels are lower than expected. In Europe, below the average estimated requirement of vitamin E is found in 92% of people over the age of 51, in magnesium 67%, in vitamin C 46%, in zinc 33%, and in vitamin B6 32%.
Older adults are at high risk for vitamin D deficiency due to limited sources of vitamin D in their diet, limited exposure to sunlight, reduced ability to synthesize vitamin D in the skin even when sun exposure is abundant, and of the reduced ability of the kidneys to convert vitamin D to its active form. Research has shown that 69% of Caucasian seniors are deficient in vitamin D. The paradox is that the phenomenon exists even in countries with intense sunshine. Deficiency has been linked to a variety of neurological diseases and other chronic conditions, such as diabetes, obesity, multiple sclerosis, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, asthma and osteoporosis as vitamin D helps helps in the absorption of calcium taken for its treatment.
It is a powerful antioxidant that helps maintain the function of the immune system. The way to meet the recommended daily allowance is to include nuts and seeds in your diet.
This particular vitamin is important for numerous metabolic reactions. Its deficiency is associated with reduced immune system function, impaired cognitive function and depression.
Magnesium- Potassium- Calcium
Magnesium, potassium and calcium are essential for maintaining healthy bones, something we did not know about until recently. They are contained in fruits and vegetables.
Most seniors get enough vitamin B12 from their diet, but unfortunately it is not well absorbed by their body due to the reduced acidity of the stomach. Its deficiency leads to a variety of serious nerve-related effects, including peripheral neuropathy, balance disorders, cognitive impairment and eventually physical disability, but also to a greater loss of bone density. Inadequate concentrations of it cause high concentrations of homocysteine and a higher risk of heart disease.
The body is made up of almost 80% water and is essential for the proper functioning of any organ, such as the brain, intestines and heart. Helps reduce the risk of various diseases such as urinary tract infections, obesity and dry mouth. It also prevents headaches, dull skin and fatigue, slowed metabolism and bad mood.
In conclusion, proper and personalized nutrition promotes physical and mental health and allows older people to live happily and creatively, energetically, independently and able to offer much more to both themselves and their families.